Understanding and Managing Anxiety

Libby O'Sullivan

*GUEST POST*

This article has been written by Imogen Furner for GLOW Physio. Imogen is a Registered Psychologist based on the Gold Coast

Anxiety… it is unfortunately a buzz word at the moment. Not the kind of buzz word we were hoping for I’m guessing! Anxiety may be an old friend/foe of yours or perhaps with the escalation of COVID-19 it has turned up as an unwelcome guest in your home. I would love to offer some simple steps you can implement to help yourself manage anxiety now and in the future. If we consistently apply changes over time then we WILL notice a shift in our experience and relationship with anxiety.

Anxiety is completely normal so we cannot expect to eradicate it but we can learn to manage it more effectively. Anxiety doesn’t need to be something we fear, instead we can learn to acknowledge its presence and apply clear and direct strategies to manage its intensity. 

Who gets anxiety?

Simple answer is everyone. 

Anxiety is believed to be 1/3 genetic and 2/3 learnt behaviour. If we are lucky enough to have the genetic component then we have to understand that we have a vulnerability to experience anxiety more than someone who does not have this in their genetic make up. We cannot change this and that is ok! Please don’t compare how you handle situations to someone else. Please accept yourself, be kind to your self and show compassion to yourself as you would to a friend. We all have our “things” that we need to navigate and manage in our life. 

Great news is that the learnt component of anxiety is completely changeable!! Patterns are developed over time and neural pathways are formed that determine how we view a situation or issue, however, WE CAN FORM NEW PATHWAYS! How cool is that!

Neuroplasticity is the ability for the brain to develop new neural pathways. We CAN teach old dogs new tricks. Gosh I love that. Let that sink in. Re read if need be!

So let’s have a look at what we can do…

Strategies to manage anxiety 

Widely known strategies

Anxiety is not new and there are many ways to help manage the severity of symptoms we experience. I will simply list the common ones that help us regulate all emotions so as to not waste time covering what you will mostly likely know! However don’t underestimate the power of these strategies just because they are in list form..

  • Regular exercise 
  • Adequate sleep
  • Limited alcohol and caffeine intake 
  • Healthy diet
  • Limit technology 
  • Listening to music
  • Limit watching the news and social media usage (covid-19 specific)
  • Connection with loved ones
  • Humour
  • Being in nature

Switching from your ‘Thinking Mind’ to your ‘Observing Mind’

Our ‘thinking mind’ is made up of all our thoughts including helpful thoughts, unhelpful thoughts and neutral thoughts. Research tells us that approximately 80% of our thinking is unhelpful and what we think about equals how we feel. Thoughts = Feelings. So if we are caught in anxious thoughts we will feel anxious. The longer we dwell on unhelpful thoughts the more intense our emotions become. 

To help manage our anxiety we can access our ‘observing mind’ which has NIL thoughts and merely observes our environment. This takes practice as we default to our ‘thinking mind’. This process is called mindfulness and it is about bringing our mind into the present moment and stepping out of our thoughts.

Some simple mindfulness strategies include:

  • 5,4,3,2,1: Ask yourself what is 5 things I can see, 4 things I can feel, 3 things I can hear, 2 things I can smell, 1 thing I can taste. Do this in any situation such as driving the car!
  • Notice everything about a task you are doing such as showering: I can see the steam and water droplets on the screen, I can feel the warm water on my skin, I can hear the water coming out of the shower, I can smell the shampoo and I can taste the water running into my mouth. 
  • 10 deep breaths into your belly (diaphragmatic breathing) and noticing the movement of your body when you inhale and exhale.

With regular practice you will be able to access your observing mind much faster and easier which will allow you to manage your anxiety more effectively.

Do what matters today

This simply means choosing to take action in areas that matter deeply to you, and that are within your control, each day. Simplify your focus on to today and limit how much you focus on the future. 

It’s important to work out what you value in terms of what type of person you would like to be. You may value being a loving parent, a supportive partner, a dedicated worker, a caring friend etc. Try to select your top 3-5 values (eg. loving, genuine, honest, funny, supportive) and work out how you can live by those today in simple ways. For example, ringing a friend who has been unwell to see how they are is a simple way to live by the value of being caring. When we live by our values we are more likely to feel content and at ease. 

Challenge your thinking 

We are creatures of habit and our brain develops patterns of thinking over time. We can change these patterns by challenging our mind when it offers us an anxiety provoking thought such as “I’ll never be able to cope”.

Sometimes our mind doesn’t offer the full story and we need to help it by saying “it feels like I won’t cope but I have handled much harder situations in the past so I think I’ll be ok”. If you consistently challenge your mind by giving it a more balanced alternative then you are creating a new neural pathway!! Overtime your mind can learn to choose this new balanced pathway when faced with similar situations! Yahoo! 

Obtaining further help

The government has now announced ALL clients with a mental health care plan (MHCP) from a GP can access free Telehealth appointments with a psychologist. Anyone who is experiencing any anxiety, stress or depressive symptoms (doesn’t have to be related to covid-19) is eligible for a MHCP which allows for 10 sessions per calendar year. If anxiety continues to be a struggle please consider booking an appointment with me. I would be more than happy to help!

To book an appointment with Imogen, please contact her on 0421844077 or imogen.furner@gmail.com.